Monday, October 28, 2013

Orange Butterflies...Not Halloween Scary to Us, But...

Most of us know that Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) are "toxic/unpalatable" to birds because of chemicals their larval stage ingest from milkweed plants. These butterflies exhibit warning coloration in the form of bold orange and black striping; this mechanism is referred to as "aposematism". This term was coined by W.B. Poulter in 1890 in his book The Color of Animals. Aposematism isn't just about color; it can also be about smell (think skunk).
Dennis Hoffman in his Your Sensory Desktop essay in This Will Make You Smarter (edited by John Bronkman, Harper Perennial 2012) states: "Our perceptions are neither true nor false. Instead, our perception of space and time and objects-the fragrance of a rose, the tartness of a lemon-are all part of our "sensory desktop", which functions much like a computer desktop...A graphical desktop is a guide to adaptive behavior...The graphical desktop guides useful behavior and hides what is true but not useful...Grasping the distinction between utility and truth is therefore critical to understanding a major force that shapes our bodies, minds, and sensory experiences...This leads to the concept of  a sensory desktop. Our sensory experiences-such as vision, sound, taste, and touch-can be thought of as sensory desktops that have evolved to guide adaptive behavior, not report objective truths...Space, time, and objects might just be aspects of a sensory desktop specific to Homo sapiens. They might not be deep insights into objective truths, just convenient conventions that have evolved to allow us to survive in our niche. Our desktop is just our desktop."
So for your sensory desktop, below are a series of orange-colored butterflies. Some are truly "toxic/unpalatable", like the Viceroy (Limenitis archippus...absorbs chemicals from willow) and Western checkerspot species (genus Euphydryas...feed on plants of the Figwort family). Surprisingly, the literature (a cursory search of Google Scholar) doesn't have a lot of material on the spectrum of butterflies (are all butterflies somewhat "toxic/unpalatable" ?) i.e. specific species being truly aposematic or mimics. Find something good :-)
Colon Checkerspot (Euphydryas colon)

Northern Checkerspot (Chlosyne palla)

Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

Edith's Checkerspot (Euphydryas editha)